There is a problem with the Negroni cocktail, but it has nothing to do with how it tastes. The problem is that it’s almost too perfect. It encourages complacency.
What’s a Negroni? It is a bittersweet Italian cocktail, reportedly invented by Count Camillo Negroni, who in 1919 walked into the Caffe Casoni in Florence, ordered an Americano with gin instead of soda water and created arguably the greatest drink ever made. It’s equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth. The bitterness of Campari makes it, like most worthy endeavors, a bit challenging, but once the taste is acquired, it enriches your life.
Almost no recipes ever specify the types of gin or vermouth to apportion. Use any gin or sweet vermouth you like, and it’s going to taste great. Swap out Campari for any of its competitors, and it’s going to taste great. Understir it, overstir it, add orange bitters, screw up the measurements, carbonate it, age it in barrels, do whatever you want to it, and it’ll still be terrific. It works for men or women, on first dates or at business meetings, after dinner, before dinner, before breakfast, on the train, in outer space, anywhere, always, forever. It’s bitter, it’s sweet, it’s perfect. It is one of the handful of mixed drinks that enjoys universal respect in the cocktail industry.
So almost no one looks for the best Negroni because saying “best Negroni” is a little like saying “best Ferrari” or “best orgasm”—yeah, there are shades of difference there, some better than others, but even a terrible one is still better than almost everything else in the world. But…if you could have the best one every time, wouldn’t you?
I have some suggestions, based on a month of double-blind, side-by-sides and about a decade of Negroni love. No brands were contacted for this project, and neither money nor bottles were solicited or received. This is for science. And love.
One major stipulation: A Negroni is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Many august bartenders will mess with the ratios, adding more gin to combat the sweetness. Many more bartenders consider this heresy. I encourage you to follow your heart, but at least start with equal parts; I acknowledge that an equal-parts Negroni is sweeter than I normally want, but I also consider it completely perfect, and I don’t know enough about quantum physics to understand how both can be true at the same time.
Tanqueray Gin with Cocchi Vermouth di Torino and Campari
The platonic ideal. No hair out of place. The three ingredients seal together like a vacuum lock and are still amazing at almost any dilution. Tastes like perching upon the summit of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs and staring down at a life of achievements.
Beefeater Gin with Carpano Antica Vermouth and Campari
When I order a Negroni at cocktail bars across the country, this is what I’m given the most often. Exposure has ingratiated it with an entire generation of drinkers, and it is indeed a fine version. Carpano Antica has too much vanilla for me in most incarnations, but Beefeater handles the sweetness nicely.
The Dark Horse
Hendrick’s Gin with Punt e Mes Vermouth and Campari
Punt e Mes is a darker vermouth with more bitterness, all cherry and chocolate, and makes an appreciably different incarnation of the cocktail than the others. It pairs surprisingly well with Hendrick’s floral nature and is a vivid an example of the incredible durability of this cocktail. It is recognizable, distinct and wonderful, all at the same time.